After 14 episodes of surviving the ruins of the Mayan Empire, Danni Boatwright won the eleventh season of Survivor after a fierce final three showdown against Stephenie LaGrossa and Rafe Judkins.
After winning final Immunity Danni chose to take Stephenie with her to the final two and won with a majority victory when the entire Jury, except Rafe, gave her their vote.
I caught up with her to find out exactly how she kicked such butt: Tashi:
Many congratulations on winning the title of Sole Survivor! Before the show started – did you imagine you were gonna win?Danni:
Yeah, I think everybody does. I dunno, maybe some people just go to see what happens but I wanted to go and win. Before I left I’d really prepared – I got every book on Guatemala that I could find, I worked with former Navy Seal training – I worked so hard.
I didn’t go out or spend time with my friends, I just stayed totally focused on the game and visualised. Right before I left for Guatemala I was crying, saying to mom: “I don’t know if I’m prepared enough!” and she was like: ‘Don’t worry.”
You just ever know, a lot of it’s luck. Tashi:
That’s so interesting ‘cos we’ve got our own South African Survivor coming very soon and it all happened so quickly that I just don’t see anyone having trained.
It came across very strongly that you were super-fit but I just assumed it was from being sporty generally - not that you’d actually done extra training for it.Danni:
Yes I’ve been an athlete all my life and my family’s just real competitive which helped. We have that competitive mind-set that you just never give up. In everything I do I go in with the idea that I’m not gonna settle for anything less than winning and do everything I can in order to see that that happens.
Just like Miss USA back in ’96 – you know I was Miss Kansas – I trained and did everything to prepare myself and then just hoped I could do my best with no regrets and left it up to the judges. Just like Survivor, you give 100% and leave it up to the judges. Tashi:
Are you a Survivor fan?Danni:
Yeah I am – I’ve only missed two seasons out of all the shows. I always watched and thought: “This would be fun but I like to eat so much, I couldn’t last that long.” Then I thought: “Why not just audition and see what happens.”Tashi:
What was the easiest thing about everything?Danni:
For me, because of growing up with a huge family and travelling around the world modelling and stuff I’ve met so many people and learnt to adapt to different situations and personalities. It was really easy for me to be with any type of personality and I think it was a big factor in my success. Tashi:
What was the most difficult?Danni:
The hunger for sure. You just can’t imagine how hungry you get – it’s not right. I had dreams about Chinese buffets and made a list of everything I wated to eat when I got home.
When I came home I couldn’t keep anything down because my stomach had shrunk so much. I was soo hungry and still I have cravings for food. Tashi
: That’s exactly what Rafe said.Danni:
Oh we’d talk when we got back – ‘cos of course you can’t share it with anybody else – so I’d call Rafe up and say: “I had blueberry pancakes and hash browns,” and he’d go into detail about what he’d had. Tashi:
If Rafe had won Immunity at the final Immunity Challenge instead of you – do you think he’d have chosen you to go to the fnal two with?Danni:
No – he’d already promised Stephenie. In the final four it was one reason I was trying to talk to him and say: “Hey, I promise I’ll take you to the final two,” – hoping he’d commit and say the same thing back. If he’d done that, I for sure would have taken him to the final two.
Just like before Brandon got voted out – Brandon and I planned on being in the final two together – and I wouldn’t have gone back on my word. Rafe never promised me final two but he promised Stephenie so I think to have a commitment you both have to be committed on both ends.Tashi:
What you say about Brandon – that didn’t come across – I didn’t get that you and he had that kind of alliance.Danni:
It was the one thing I was disappointed about in the show. They gave a true edit to everything but because Brandon and I weren’t involved in any conflict and there wasn’t anything romantically between us therefore it wasn’t anything interesting. He’s like a little brother to me.
When he got voted out he hugged me and said: “You’re like the sister I’ve never had.” He’s from Kansas also so we just shared so many similar things. He’s an awesome kid and he was so tough physically and also mentally his work ethic made him such a threat.
If we’d merged with numbers I think Brandon and I would have made it to the final two and Brandon would have won. Tashi:
During the Reunion show he seemed very overwhelmed by everything. Like he couldn’t believe how nasty and mean things were. Danni:
There’s not a nasty bone in his body. He’s just a good Kansas boy who would never do anything to hurt anybody and I knew that that would be his biggest downfall in the game.
I even said to him at the very beginning, before our tribes got mixed up, I said: “Brandon, keep your eyes open to what’s going on and trust me,” because I knew I’d have to do all the dirty work - there’s no way he could anything – not even necessarily mean but that was competitive. Everybody really loved him – he was probably the favourite on the show. Tashi:
Would he have been your fave if you were watching?Danni:
Oh absolutely, no doubt.Tashi:
And your absolute worst?Danni:
I think people may have felt the same way vieiwing it – Judd and Jamie were probably everyone’s least favourite but if I were viewing it would have been Jamie because the way I saw him act in some of the challenges, the way he got in Bobby-Jon’s face and him mouthing off and being cocky when we merged - I didn’t like that.
When I got to know him - cos we slept next to each other in the shelter at night – he’s a good kid, he’s just had to battle a lot of things in his life that he’s trying to overcome that make you understand why he has some anger problems but he’s a good guy.Tashi:
Whose Jury question did you least enjoy at the final Tribal Council?Danni:
That was aweful - at that stage I really felt I couldn’t go another day ‘cos I couldn’t even walk up the hill I was so weak and all I could think about was eating.
I didn’t think they were too hard on us – they had some interesting questions that I thought were funny and entertaining but there wasn’t anything that I thought was too bad.Tashi:
In the Reunion show Jeff said that people had treated her and Bobby-Jon as celebs – did they?Danni:
It was such a huge advantage for her and Bobby-Jon coming into the game – it’s like any sport, if you’ve played the game before and all of a sudden you’re going up against a bunch of rookies you have such an advantage.
You know how the challenges work, you what the time span is, you know how to save your energy and what to expect. Stephenie worked that to her advantage which was very smart of her and I was observing that the whole time thinking: “I need to try to align with her,” so I knew I had to find a way of getting into the alliance with her and Rafe ‘cos they were running the show.
I knew the game had so many twists and turns that I was praying that the Lord would keep my eyes open so I wouldn’t miss an opportunity. Gary – everytime I walked into Tribal Council and I wasn’t voted off – I looked at him and he had a smile on his face. He said to me afterwards – “I prayed for you every night.” Tashi:
That was really nice of him considering you were the one who blurted his secret to everybody. Danni:
That was at the very beginning and he wasn’t a big household name. I don’t think if anybody knew it would have made any difference. Our tribes swtched after that and I knew Gary was a really good guy so I was like” Why press the issue any more?” The whole time he knew I knew. Tashi:
What’s it like being a millionairre?Danni:
I’m not! I paid $ 400,000 in taxes.Tashi:
I know, tax sucks so big time – it’s ridiculous.Danni:
I know, but I know taxes go to a good cause so I don’t have a problem with that and I gave my money to my church - my family has ministeries. I helped my family out so I really didn’t end up getting that much. Tashi:
Did you spend any of it though?Danni:
Yes I have two Ridgeback dogs that are four years old and one of them has Hip Dysplasia - I bought him a new hip and he’s getting his other hip in about six months. It was like $3,300 dollars for justone hip so it was pricey but his life changed just a couple of days out of surgery so it was worth it. Tashi:
Have you made lots of money afterwards with appearances and that kind of thing?Danni:
Nobody’s asked that question before and it’s funny because you do – you could really milk it for everything and make appearances and make a bunch of money.Tashi:
So are you doing that?Danni:
No – no because I’ll go and sign autographs and whatever but for the most part I just want to stay focused on my goals and my dreams and my dream wasn’t to be a reality TV star. It’s funny that I ended up winning but I really just kinda wanted to get back to my normal life and my goals for myself. Tashi:
So what are these? You’re still busy with press conferences from the show etc – what else are doing?Danni:
After I won I made a couple of appearances but I went right back to work. I was a sideline reporter for the Arena Football League – which is indoor football – and now that season has just ended and I’ve been doing interviews with other offers I’ve had and I’m busy locally with radio stuff that I do. Tashi:
Who of the Survivors have you kept in touch with?Danni:
I just saw Margaret – she came into town and we hung out. Brandon – I see him often ‘cos we live close to each other. I talk to several on the phone – Gary I talk to quite a bit and Rafe and Stephenie and Brooke. Those are the people I talk to the most but every once in a while you e-mail one another. Tashi:
Whose your favourite Survivor of all time from every season?Danni:
It was Stephenie. Watching her in Palau and how she was so determined nd competitive and I really enjoyed watching her outdo a lot of the guys on Palau. All-time – probably Colby ‘cos he kicked everybody’s butt. I mean he won every challenge – he was just a good old Texas boy.
He was a tough guy, he stuck by his word from the very beginning Tina and him had a pact and he knew he couldn’t beat her at the end cos he had to offend a lot people but he still took her to the end and I thought it was really cool. He reminds me a lot of Brandon. Ends